I don’t like putting labels on kids, on people. I don’t like using polls or studies to declare absolute black-and-white predictions, as I’ve repeatedly written about on EarlyMama.com. I don’t like making parents feel guilty or ashamed or stressed — especially with a topic as delicate and nuanced as, say, obesity.
That being said, a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine may be an eye-opening reality check for parents whose chubby toddlers are now becoming chubbier children.
According to the national study — determined with government data on 7,738 participants studied over a nine-year period — overweight 5-year-olds are four times more likely to be obese by age 14.
“Among children who became obese between the ages of 5 and 14 years, nearly half had been overweight and 75% had been above the 70th percentile for body-mass index at baseline,” the study concluded.
So it seems like Kindergarten is a good time to check in and realize that maybe it isn’t just baby weight. Because if your child is overweight at age 5, then it’s statistically probable that he or she will struggle with obesity issues throughout childhood.
(Statistically probable, not set-in-stone certainty.)
Of course it’s not as if a window suddenly shuts in Kindergarten, automatically sentencing your child to a life of weight, health, and emotional problems. Some kids are taught unhealthy eating habits at home, with minimal exercise. Some kids have health issues that parents simply can’t help. And many kids actually do outgrow weight issues throughout childhood, despite the statistics.
Dr. Esther Krych, a pediatrician at the Mayo Clinic Children’s Center, told The Huffington Post that “while some very obese children do need to lose weight, the vast majority of children can ‘grow into’ their weight.” And Babble.com blogger Casey Mullins recently wrote about her own “obese toddlers” and how they do, in fact, “stretch out.”
So while it’s important to know the obesity risk, it’s also important to cut yourself some slack. There are plenty of overweight kids with parents who are doing everything right. It’s easy to make assumptions — to wrap a little person up in statistics and stereotypes — but how much can you fight genetic predispositions and natural body types? It’s hard to not feel for moms like Heather Neal who recently wrote “I’m a Dietician, and My Toddler Is Obese” for Babble. Moms who are serving healthy meals, wrangling super-active kids, and still leave the pediatrician’s office in tears.
Even though your overweight kindergartener is predisposed for long-lasting childhood obesity, not every kid is a statistic. Not all hope is lost.
Teach healthy eating habits with healthy portions. Fill your plates with colorful food that’s grown in nature. Get them moving. Value wellness and fitness, as a family. And then, above all, teach kids to love their bodies exactly as they are, and to take pride in being healthy.
Despite the studies and the statistics, that’s all you can really do.